The Continued Toleration of Illiteracy

I have written about the widespread pandemic of illiteracy for many years, and I find it odd that there has continued to be an attitude of toleration to the phenomenon – even among people who I consider to be quite literate.

This has bugged me incessantly, and I have puzzled time and again, but have never been able to figure out why there continues to be such widespread resistance to the promotion of literacy.

The relatively obvious situation that many organizations have been able to reap great profits from duping illiterate suckers and thereby emptying their pockets can hardly be „breaking news“ any more. Modern propaganda methods were perhaps first developed at the turn of the Twentieth Century, they were exploited on a grand scale in the Third Reich – but it was truly the Americans who „perfected“ it and turned into a science.

For many decades, the „American Way of Life“ has been associated with progress, wealth and economic development. When the shady details of the mortgage-backed securities crisis started becoming more and more obvious, when people started protesting that they had been duped into debt, then this movement was silenced in short shrift. The message was loud and clear: “Shut up, slaves!”

You might think that might have been a wake-up call. Nada.

Now, or rather recently, there has been another tell-tale sign screaming out of the sinful modern media: The “Fake News” crisis. Will this, too, be swept under the carpet? I think this hypothesis might not be as far-fetched as it might sound to some.

The puzzling evidence won’t go away, though, and it continues to nag me. The other day an idea occurred to me that might help explain some of it, but so far it’s still just a wild guess – and I think I need to think it through some more before I might feel OK with actually putting the idea “out there”. I don’t need to explain all of it, but I do think I want to feel as though it’s no just a random thought-bubble.

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The Rationality of Interdependence vs. Independence (+ Self-Reliance + Inter-Reliance)

Many people are upset. They are upset with something the Donald did. Apparently, they feel somewhat dependent on stuff Donald does.

Donald does stupid stuff – and so do you. We all do stupid stuff. Whether or not Donald realizes he does stupid stuff is not about you or me – it is simply about Donald.

You don’t depend on Donald. You may feel as though you depend on Donald, but you are still free to do your own thing. You can always do the right thing even if Donald does something wrong.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I couldn’t care less what someone screams into a megaphone.

This isn’t about me. Or someone. Life is about all of us.

Whether we are or aren’t living a life of dependency depends on what you think. If you think you can live without breathing air, feel free to go right ahead and live that way. I don’t think that way, so perhaps I will choose not to rely on you.

What I rely on is my decision.

I don’t rely on „fake news“ or even retard media in general.

What you choose to rely on is up to you. I hope you will be able to choose wisely, and I am also willing to help you – but it really does depend on what you want and on what you choose to do.

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The Rationality of Uncertainty

When I was learning science in high school, I was mesmerized by the notion that scientific facts were true, myths were false, and there were still things that needed to be „figured out“. I was very impressed by the way computers were all about 1’s and 0’s (it wasn’t until much later that I learned computers didn’t actually divide truth and falsehood quite that neatly). Several years ago, I made a graphic image that shows the difference between the way it appears that humans think vs. the way it appears that computers think.

Note that I didn’t label which side represents human thinking vs. computer thinking. What we usually experience when we use computers is either TRUE or FALSE – we are not normally aware that there is actually a „DON’T KNOW“ state in between those two extremes. About a decade ago, I was very adamant about three-state logics.

Several decades ago, when I was just embarking on dissertation research (which was never finished, but that story is beyond the scope of this article), I was very adamant about something called „modal logic“ – a field in philosophy (and linguistics) which focuses on human modes of thought (such as „knowing“ vs. „believing“). Since humans often make references to such modes, I was hoping to unlock a hidden treasure behind such concepts. Yet they remain elusive to me to this day, even though I may quite often be heard to utter something like „I think…“ or „I believe…“ or indeed many such modes (usually using so-called „modal verbs“).

I think the less room we allow for such modalities – the smaller the amount of space we make for cases in which we acknowledge that we really don’t know, the more likely we are to make mistakes / errors.

Statisticians might be very cool to acknowledge „type 1“ and „type 2“ errors without even batting an eyelash, but for most regular folks it makes a world of difference whether we want X, whether we fear Y, whether we hope or wish or whatever.

Such very human modes of thought are rampant in our everyday lives and thinking, yet they are not given very much (or even any) room in the computer world. When there is no room whatsoever for „maybe“, then I predict the algorithms processing the data will probably be wrong.

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The Rationality of Literacy

Over the past couple months, I have worked on developing a mission statement for one of my overarching goals – something like a „life goal“. Initial attempts were quite abstract, and I was greatly helped by the very considerate feedback of friends.

In the intervening weeks since those first trials, I have kept the general aim present but I have focused on it much less. Over the past several days, I have received several ideas from other sources – more or less haphazardly, which have motivated me to reconsider this particular life goal again from a new perspective.

For people who have been following my writing for several years, it should be no surprize that literacy is really at the crux of my thinking about many topics, and also with respect to this particular life goal for which I want to craft a mission statement. One thing that has been „bugging“ me for the past year or two is how my focus on literacy is considered by many – indeed, including myself – to be a non-human matter. In this view, reading, writing and arithmetic are technologies and therefore lack the warmth of flesh-and-blood human beings. Code and language are inert, not living things, and they cannot ultimately provide meaning in the same way as interaction with other humans can – as humans (so this argument) we are, after all, social animals.

This view, however, interprets technology from a very parochial point of view. According to this perspective, technology is merely an artefact, a curiosity, a product… albeit of human ingenuity. We pound nails not because there is anything interesting about doing so, but merely because doing so makes our lives easier from the results of applying such technologies. There is nothing interesting about iron or steel per se, but rather such materials are only interesting insofar as they can be manipulated into helping to make nails, just as nails are only interesting insofar as they can be used to build more things. As an aside: It might make sense to think about how the technologies we use also create threatening things – such as global warming, nuclear waste, AIDS and/or many other problems.

Yet let me not drift away from the current issue – crafting my mission statement. I view language and literacy somewhat differently than most… and over the years, my thinking about these things has also undergone continued development and refinement. While I have long known (or believed) that language cannot be owned (e.g. by a monarch) or dictated (e.g. to the masses), I am now at a point where I feel it may be useful to extrapolate beyond this rather mundane and obvious fact to recognize a „rationality of literacy“, in which people make a rational decision to engage with each other via linguistic technologies. In this vein, literacy is also not simply owned or attained, but rather it is practiced (or – in the case of illiteracynot practiced).

This is important because it redirects our attention away from the ownership of resources to the actual use of such resources. To give a concrete example: In order to engage with „cars“, it is not necessary to own cars. Engagement with cars can also happen when someone references cars. Statements like „cars are good“ or „cars are bad“ are social expressions insofar as there is agreement within a society regarding what these words (and expressions) mean.

Likewise, our level of engagement with a topic can be as small or as large as our involvement with various other social institutions related to that topic. We might simply talk about cars with very little engagement, or we might become much more involved with cars by joining organizations that deal with them and associated technologies. Our involvement with „cars“ may lead us to become involved with „pedestrians“, „streets“, „roads“, „highways“, „infrastructure“, „pollution“, „global warming“ and many other topics, too.

We do not need to become dictators in any of these arenas. It is completely sufficient to simply engage – to participate in the social construction of the reality related to each of these terms. It ought to be quite plain to see that the reality we thereby create in one arena might not be the exact same reality created in another arena. There might be nuanced differences, but there might also be meaningful relationships between and among the various arenas.

Increased engagement in more and more arenas goes hand in hand with increased literacy. These two phenomena are crucially related: You cannot have one without the other (that is, at least, a hypothesis I am venturing here).

This thinking is what leads me to venture that the mission statement I need probably goes something like: My mission is to promote literacy – in order to increase community engagement and social cohesion, and also in order to motivate humans more towards alignment and harmony with natural evolution.

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It’s Not What You Think It Is

My friend Jean Russell shared a really fascinating meme the other day on facebook. The main gist of the idea was that “you are what you think”… such that rather than “I am what you think I am”, in fact “you are what you think I am”.

This is a very powerful message — and yet there seems to be another message hidden behind the surface: Many things are not what you think they are. Some people also use the phrase “the map is not the territory” to draw attention to this phenomenon.

Yet many people make this exact mistake, often many times over — I guess sort of non-stop. Let me give you an example.

When I warn people about the dangers of relying too heavily on Google (or even about the dangers of using it at all — see also “Definition: How to Define “Retard Media”“), they often respond with “what do you have against the Internet?” or maybe “well, I don’t rely exclusively on the Internet”. These people apparently don’t realize that Google is not the Internet (neither is Facebook, nor Wikipedia or any other individual website).

In a similar vein, there is a podcast called “No Agenda” that purports to be all about media deconstruction. I enjoy listening to this podcast very much, but as far as I know neither of the creators of the show have ever given a functional operational definition of what they consider to be media (versus “not media”). As it is, they primarily deconstruct television programming (and also TV ads). But they sometimes also analyze websites (such as facebook.com and/or google.com) — but not all websites… so which websites? Their limited view of media distorts the usefulness of their information — to put it simply: because they deconstruct some things, but not everything.

Granted: deconstructing everything would be a quite formidable task… and it may even be impossible. But since they do not explicitly delineate what it is they want to deconstruct, the result is that the selection of what they do actually deconstruct may very well be quite biased. That is sad, because otherwise I would say that their approach is refreshing and insightful.

 

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